THE SHIFT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR FROM THE summer at home to the fall at school can be both an exciting and an anxious time for young children. Often, there is a fine line between the two emotions, with one considered positive and the other negative. Sometimes the difference between "excited" and "anxious" is the label we put on it. If we put a positive spin on these feelings, we can help children learn how to accept these natural emotions and utilize them in positive ways. Awareness of how to manage these feelings at your group time is essential to creating the right climate for a year of joyful activities together. In fact, this is the perfect time of the year to teach children simple techniques for calming and centering themselves.

Pass the Quiet Stone

As children arrive at your group time, invite them to sit in a circle. Place a large, beautiful stone, crystal, or rock in the center of the circle. Ask children to look at it for a few moments. Then pick up the stone and feel it as you say, "I am going to hold the stone quietly for a few moments, and when I am finished I will pass it to the next person in the circle to hold. We will silently pass the stone around the circle until it returns to me." Children will enjoy looking at the stone and will become centered as they feel the focused quiet of the activity. Then you are ready to continue with your group-time activities!

Let's Just Face It

This can be a time of mixed emotions for children, and many of those emotions are intense. With all the excitement and anxiety of the start of school, it's a good idea to have a few activities to channel children's energy in a positive way. Sit on the floor with children in a circle in a cozy area. Make a silly smile, or try a funny wink. Then turn to the child to your right. That child then makes a face just like yours and turns and passes it to the next child in the circle, and so on. Don't worry about how well they make the face. This is more about relaxing and having fun with a silly activity than about doing it perfectly. In fact, some of these faces are so funny, children are bound to be giggling by the end of the circle! Eventually, you can invite children to take a turn making a face to start the game. They can be happy, funny-even sad or angry faces. Children will feel comfortable expressing these different emotions within the safe confines of the game. Plus, they get to see the "mirror" of their emotions in the faces of others.

Quiet Observation

Do you ever feel as though you are losing children's attention? You can get them back quickly by reaching into a bag and pulling out an unusual object. This might be a peacock feather, a beautiful flower, or a huge leaf. Just the surprise alone will get their attention! Once you have it, you can help children learn how to focus by inviting them to closely examine the object. You might say, "Try looking at the object from different angles, and from above and below. Keep looking at it until you notice something you never saw before." Then ask children to take turns talking about what they saw. Write children's observations on chart paper so that they can also see what their words look like in print. After children have participated in this observation game, they may want to incorporate the surprise object into their playtime. Other objects to consider: small stuffed or wheeled toys, a magic wand, a beautiful shell or rock, a fresh fruit or vegetable.

Time-In

When children need calming and centering, instead of separating them and sending them to "time-out," try this "time-in" activity. To introduce the idea, you might say, "Sometimes we can get so excited that we forget how to be still and quiet inside. Let's practice a way to take a time-in break. Instead of time-out-when you have to leave the group to quiet down-time-in is an opportunity for all of us to sit down and listen to the quiet sounds inside ourselves." Ring a chime or a soft bell and ask children to sit or lie down comfortably wherever they are. Children can close their eyes if they want to, but are not required to. Ask them to feel their bodies resting on the floor. "Can you feel how heavy your legs/arms feel? If you want to, you can pretend to be a tree growing roots right into the floor. Feel how quietly the roots grow. Now listen for the quiet. What do you hear? Do you hear your heartbeat? Your own breath?" Stop talking for a short period of time (30 seconds at first), and then slowly bring children back to the group. "When you are ready, you can slowly start wiggling your fingers and toes, and open your eyes and look at a friend. Welcome back!"

More Activities to Try

The ideas above are just a few of the calming activities you can start the year with. Here are a few more to consider:

  • pantomime games
  • yoga
  • stretching exercises
  • listening to music
  • finger plays
  • call-and-response poems.